FOIA: 2021 CSM Dean candidate feedback

Have JMU’s Academic Affairs Hiring Guidelines made searches less transparent, and do they diminish the role of faculty expertise in the process? This, at least, appeared to be the case in the 2021 search for the Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, and sparked our chapter’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the subject.

JMU AAUP asked for records that we hoped would increase transparency about the decision to suppress faculty voice in the 2021 College of Science and Mathematics Dean Search. In this search process, the decision was made to suppress all comments about all written feedback for all candidates. In the absence of a coherent public explanation, these written comments were deemed “unusable”.

On March 10, 2023, JMU AAUP requested all records central to the unusual decision to deny search committee members access to all submitted written comments, information that likely represented thousands of hour of investment by faculty and staff (March_17_amendment). After 9 weeks of back and forth with the FOIA office, our request was dropped in early May after modifications and requirements that seemed overly specific had distorted the scope of records sought, and once we received an  estimate in excess of $5,000 to prepare the documents. 

After consultation with an external FOIA expert, and with success in our “FOIA of FOIAs”, a new FOIA request on the same CSM feedback decision was submitted on June 23, 2023. Our reframed request, FOIA_Survey_Feedback_June_23, sought all email communications in which Provost Heather Coltman and/or Search Committee Chair Sharon Lovell were involved and which concerned the decision to deny the CSM dean search committee access to all written faculty feedback due to

“many instances of comments that were inappropriate or irrelevant, as well as instances of single individuals completing the survey multiple times, to the extent that our Human Resources and Legal teams renders the survey feedback unusable.” (Search Update email, communicated on April 27, 2023 by the JMU Office of the Provost)

Initial summary of JMU response:

Our successful request for all email communication which Provost Coltman or search chair Lovell received or sent regarding the statement referenced above was fulfilled July 13, 2023 at the cost of $878.37. In brief, 20 pages containing multiple email threads were provided. Redaction was the subject of two of these emails only in the context that HR recommended that Adobe be used, and a third email mentioned the existence of a successfully redacted document (note: prepared for the search committee? check this!). No email documents were produced that referenced the existence of an HR or Legal recommendation that all written feedback should be withheld from the search committee. 

Next Steps:

JMU AAUP members will pursue gaps in the email records though the FOIA office and in future meetings with upper administration. If you would like to help with this, please contact us at

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